Fire Damage >> Delicate Fire Cleanup

An Account of the Conservation and Preservation Procedures Following A Fire at the Huntington Library and Art Gallery Barbara Roberts , Carol Verheyen , William S. Ginell, Stanley Derelian, Leonard Krowech, Teresa Longyear, Billie Milam, Barbara Roberts, Linda Strauss, Deborah Silguero, Ron Tank, James L. Greaves Delicate Fire Cleanup

1 INTRODUCTION Barbara Roberts The following report, written by members of the conservation team who were assembled to deal with the aftermath of an electrical fire at the Huntington Gallery, Pasadena, California, of October 1985, is intended as an account of the actions that were taken for a collection in which every object was affected by residual smoke damage. Delicate Fire Cleanup

There was no resident conservation staff other than for the book and paper collections. This is a subject that is rarely made public by a museum and Delicate Fire Cleanup seldom addressed in the conservation literature (see Bibliography).

Areas of specialty are addressed as follows: Delicate Fire Cleanup Organizing Volunteers and Supplies Following the Fire, Carol Verheyen, Preparator/Registrar, The Huntington Library Analytical Chemistry, William S. Ginell, Conservation Scientist, Getty Conservation Institute Accessioned Textiles, Stanley Derelian, Private Conservator, Santa Cruz, Ca. Draperies and Valances, Leonard Krowech, The Swelldom Company, Sun Valley, Ca. Marble Sculpture, Teresa Longyear, Private Conservator, Los Angeles, Ca. Bronze Sculpture, Billie Milam, Sculpture Conservator, J. Paul Getty Museum Furniture, Gilt Bronze Mounts, Picture Frames, Panelled Rooms, Mixed Media Objects, Barbara Roberts, Conservator of Decorative Arts and Sculpture, J. Paul Getty Museum Silver, Glass and Ceramics, Linda A. Strauss, Assistant Conservator of Decorative Arts, J. Paul Getty Museum Installation of the Collections, Deborah Silguero, Independent Mountmaker, Los Angeles, Ca. Books, Ron Tank, Paper Conservator, The Huntington Library Conclusion, Barbara Roberts

The fire originated at night in the electrical wiring of the gallery's elevator. It smoldered, Delicate Fire Cleanup presumably for some time, and ignited within the shaft. No smoke alarm was installed in the elevator shaft. Hallway sensors detected movement and set off an alarm.

The only burn damage to the collections occurred when both elevator doors sprang open on the ground floor level. The resulting blast of heat destroyed the 1777 Portrait of Mrs. Edwin Lascelles by Sir Joshua Reynolds. The gilded frame was undamaged. Delicate Fire Cleanup

Prior to the fire it had had a considerable buildup of surface dirt; following the blast it was extremely clean. The gilding apparently reflected the heat. An English mahogany table beneath the painting was scorched on the front rail and legs. Delicate Fire Cleanup

Two tapestry covered chairs on either side of the table were scorched, and Delicate Fire Cleanup the tapestry seats were burned beyond repair. The fire department was at the museum three minutes after receiving the alarm call. They suppressed the fire with water within 12 minutes. They were present when the elevator doors opened involuntarily.

Exhaust pumps removed all excess water, and other than hot steam, there was no direct water damage. It should be noted that the local fire department conducted regular drills at the Huntington and they were extremely well prepared. They preserved the collections and the building. Delicate Fire Cleanup

The three-story elevator shaft belched smoke for approximately four minutes after the doors opened, Delicate Fire Cleanup much of which was swept upwards into the adjacent double sided stairwell. Gallery doors were not closed, and the dense smoke reached every corner of the building in minutes. It permeated the air conditioning system.

A fine, blackened oily film that contained soot like contaminates was deposited anywhere the smoke could reach, including drawers inside closed desks and Delicate Fire Cleanup the interior of clock movements. (See Figures 1 and 2 for examples of the deposition of this film on the ceiling and on a marble sculpture.)

Windows and doors were opened to air the building. The outside temperature and humidity levels were fairly stable. Fig. 1. Huntington Art Gallery—Smoke and Delicate Fire Cleanup heat damage to ceiling in hallway immediately outside elevator shaft. Fig. 2.

Cleaning test on Cleopatra by Laurent Delraux (Huntington Collection #68.10A); on table on upper floor landing. Initial conservation advice was to take stock of the damage and to request analysis of the oily layer to establish exactly what had to be removed. Delicate Fire Cleanup

Glen Cass at the California Institute of Technology reported that the deposit was composed of approximately 50 percent black elemental carbon, mostly in the form of small black specks that would not dissolve in any solvent, Delicate Fire Cleanup and approximately 50 percent organic compounds, most containing between 24 and 36 carbon atoms and similar in structure to lubricating greases.

The residue was related to wood smoke. This layer covered normal gallery dust and accumulated dirt, Delicate Fire Cleanup or previous corrosion products. It was clear that the deposits had to be removed before they dried out completely and became insoluble. This thesis was confirmed by tests conducted by the Getty Conservation Institute.

Working time could be numbered in weeks rather than years. The conservators who were involved with the project were chosen for their specialties, Delicate Fire Cleanup and their contributions are documented in the following pages.

2 ORGANIZING VOLUNTEERS AND SUPPLIES FOLLOWING THE FIRE Carol Verheyen Following the fire, Delicate Fire Cleanup the situation at the gallery was assessed by the director and the curators of the Huntington.

There is no resident conservation staff for decorative arts, textiles, or paintings. They consulted with conservators from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Delicate Fire Cleanup as well as scientists from the California Institute of Technology. The concensus was to proceed cautiously and without haste.

The first "workday,” Octobert 26, Delicate Fire Cleanup was nine days after the fire, to clean objects in place in the gallery. Conservators came three days after the fire to conduct tests for the removal of the sooty deposit from various types of objects. They specified which objects could be cleaned by trained volunteers, with treatments and materials written on a procedure sheet.

The cleaning began with furniture, table top bronzes, and silver. Supplies were gathered in the first week as outlined by Getty Museum conservators. Local hardware stores were important for basics such as buckets, plastic basins, garbage cans, mineral spirits, extension cords, Delicate Fire Cleanup and packing tape.

A large scientific company supplied cotton swabs, absorbant cotton, dispensing bottles, Kaydry paper towels, Kimwipes, ethyl alcohol, vinyl gloves, face masks, Delicate Fire Cleanup and canned air. Second hand diapers from a diaper service were used as soft cleaning cloths, and these were periodically laundered at a dry cleaners.

For emergencies, a local lab supply house was convenient for small quantities of chemicals and containers. A vacuum cleaner with a triple filter was purchased for vacuuming the upholstered furniture, tapestries, Delicate Fire Cleanup and accessioned carpets.

For some weeks, the majority of the gallery lights were not working due to the electrical damage in the elevator shaft, Delicate Fire Cleanupand the smoke smell was oppressive and liable to cause nausea on prolonged exposure. To alleviate these problems, tensor lamps and electrical fans were bought or borrowed.

For handling and storage of objects, we acquired cotton and vinyl gloves. Bed sheets were donated to cover cleaned objects. A local moving company, which moved art objects to storage during the renovation period, supplied newsprint Delicate Fire Cleanup and dozens of sturdy packing boxes of various sizes.

The fragile objects (approximately 140 pieces of ceramics and glass, 400 silver objects, 16 small bronzes, five pairs of candelabra, Delicate Fire Cleanup and 12 clocks) had to be selectively wrapped in acid-free tissue paper and packed in boxes, cushioned with styrofoam "popcorn,” before being moved to the Main Gallery, which was our largest storage area.

The gallery has a photographic identification card file for each object. These were copied and the sheets were placed in the room where the objects were displayed, Delicate Fire Cleanup and moved with the object for identification purposes when boxed or covered.

Conservators and volunteers alike were instructed to sign the sheet with date, treatment given, Delicate Fire Cleanup and their names. This provided an accurate record of all work carried out on an object. Chemicals were stored in a room with outside ventilation off the basement of the gallery.

A supply bucket room was established in a large bathroom off the gallery, where the volunteers were instructed to replace their buckets as they left each evening. An appeal for help was made to the docent volunteers at the Huntington. Delicate Fire Cleanup

On the first workday we had a team of 15 volunteers, four staff members, and six conservators from the J. Paul Getty Museum. The small team was necessary to keep tight control during the initial training phase. Followlng a brief orientation by Barbara Roberts Delicate Fire Cleanup and Jerry Podany from the Getty, the volunteers chose to train on a type of object with which they were most comfortable: furniture, sculpture, or silver.

They received hands-on instruction in cleaning techniques from a specialist conservator. This was augmented by written handouts for each type of object, to refresh memories Delicate Fire Cleanup or to introduce new volunteers to a procedure. Initially the volunteers were asked to commit 10 to 12 hours a week to ensure continuity.

Once they felt comfortable with a cleaning technique they could set their own schedule, but were asked to check in with the staff member Delicate Fire Cleanup or senior conservator working in the gallery that day. Any questions or problems were discussed with the person "on call.” This system worked well.

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